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6 posts from March 2017

WHEN A DREAM COMES TRUE IN THE GREEN STATE OF CALIFORNIA

By Safia Dworjack, CIEE Intern

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

When I learned that I had landed the position to work on an environmental program for the City of San José in California, it was a dream come true.

California is a very appealing state with its beaches and its year-round sunshine. It is also, for an environmentalist like me, the state where innovation and challenges make your everyday job exciting. In the heart of the Silicon Valley, I had the opportunity to attend many conferences and workshops to build my skills and knowledge in the environmental field. I took the opportunity to speak to a conference, This Way to Sustainability, at Chico State University, to present the program I was working on.

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With the cohort of young American graduate students in Sustainability

For my job, I engaged local businesses in an energy efficiency program, Step Up and Power Down, to help them reduce their energy consumption. Being so close to the local community and building trust relationships in a culture and a language which were not mine was very rewarding.

I had the chance to work with an awesome young woman 8 hours a day who gave me a deep dive in the American and Vietnamese culture. Thirty percent of the population in San José in Vietnamese, the biggest in the US!

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Ready to go out into the field and engage businesses with my colleagues

I was also able to take part in a graduate program in sustainability. There, I was able to meet 30 American students who shared my passion, and also allowed me to discover the challenges and hopes of my generation in this leading country of the United States.

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With the Energy Champions for the behavior change campaign I led at City Hall

Finally, I had the honor to be selected for the CIEE I-LEAD program in DC, a 6-day workshop with 58 other J-1 interns from 30 different countries. Through workshops and activities, I was pleased to discover many kind-hearted young people which galvanized me in continuing my work to make a difference in my country.

Back in France, I am proud I did that experience as it made me grow as a person, and gave me professional experience that I already see is making a difference on the job market. If you have any hesitations or legitimate fears to live this experience, I would say go for it as it will be an amazing experience that will make you stronger on so many levels!

Alumni Update - March 2017

 


NEWS THIS MONTH

Alumni and Interns Meet in Washington, D.C.

On February 9, the CIEE Alumni Washington, D.C. Chapter and CIEE J-1 Professional Exchange Programs co-hosted a happy hour on Capitol Hill to bring together alumni of all CIEE programs and current participants of the CIEE Internship USA and Professional Career Training USA programs for a night of networking. Over 40 alumni and interns, including many participants of the Australian Uni-Capitol Washington Internship Programme (UCWIP), gathered at Capitol Lounge to exchange stories of their travels and talk about international politics. Learn more. 

CIEE Study Abroad Alumna Creates Social Enterprise in Kenya

CIEE Study Abroad and University of Southern California alumna Ruby Au traveled to Cape Town, South Africa in 2015 to pursue her interests in social enterprise and environmental issues. The semester abroad studying and working in a Western Cape township inspired her to keep traveling and solving problems. Ruby now lives in Nairobi, Kenya and operates a social enterprise that she co-founded. The organization, Lumen, is a market survey company that enables information gathering in rural communities while providing data and computer literary to children. Read her story and support Lumen's campaign

Global Navigators in Seville Create Video of Study Abroad Experience

Did you study abroad in Spain? Are you longing for summer in Seville? If so, then we've got a video for you! Students in the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad Digital Filmmaking and Documentary program in Seville, Spain created a video documenting their adventures, featuring interviews with students on the theme of "what made you want to study abroad?" Watch the video to be transported to beautiful beaches, open markets, Islamic architecture, and other scenic spots in Spain.

Do you have a great #throwbackthursday photo or video from your time abroad? Share with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @cieealumni or using #cieealumni.

New Gap Year Programs & Scholarships

A gap year abroad is a unique opportunity to discover the world and find the right path for your future – at your own pace. If you or someone you know is considering a gap year abroad, customize the experience with CIEE by choosing a theme, focus, time frame, and destination. Furthermore, try three new types of programs – Language & Culture, Service & Leadership, and Global Internship – to make the most of your experience. And don't forget, CIEE offers $100,000 in Gap Year Abroad scholarships and grants, giving you opportunities to apply for merit, financial need, or blogging/social media awards. Open to graduating high school students around the world.

Start planning your dream gap year abroad with CIEE now – applications are open for Fall 2017! Learn more.


UPCOMING EVENTS

Stay up-to-date with alumni events by:

Read about the most recent CIEE Alumni Local Chapter events on the blog.

 

 


 

ALUM OF THE MONTH 

The Alum of the Month for March is Elviss Straupenieks, CIEE alumnus and former Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) participant. This young entrepreneur defied the odds in Latvia to start his company, AirBoard, at age sixteen. For Elviss, participating in the BAFF program was an opportunity to gain experience practicing and understanding the relational aspects of leadership on the path to pursuing his personal and business goals. "Learning how to focus on gaining concrete leadership tools enabled me to create transparency and direction while at the same time involving individuals and groups of people in meaningful dialogues about goals associated with my business,” he says. Coming to Portland, Maine on the BAFF program offered Elviss an opportunity to make connections and gain the leadership skills needed to take his inventive idea one step further. But that’s not where his story begins. Read his story.


Do you have your own story to share? Email us: alumni@ciee.org


ALUMNI VOICES

Excerpts from recently published alumni stories: 

"By the time you’re done with your program and return home, everything may go back to normal but something in your mind will have changed – that’s the experience you need in this life. That will change everything around you." -Nathan Musah (CIEE Work & Travel USA, 2008)

 


@CIEEALUMNI 



From left: Staff at the CIEE St. Petersburg Study Center prepare for their upcoming anniversary by conducting alumni interviews; CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program alumna writes about experience in Chile for Nomad Hill; and staff at the CIEE Lisbon Study Center are pleasantly surprised by a visit from an alumna.

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Transporting to the Future: How a Young Latvian Entrepreneur is Changing How We Fly

"BAFF gives you an opportunity to learn entrepreneurship, to see the world from a different point of view, and to create a network of skillful and talented international friends who you might cross paths with again in your future ventures."

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The Alum of the Month for March is Elviss Straupenieks, former participant of the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) and creator of AirBoard, the world’s smallest manned aircraft. The young entrepreneur enrolled in the BAFF program to gain experience practicing and understanding the relational aspects of leadership on the path to pursuing his personal and business goals. For Elviss, participating in BAFF was the perfect opportunity. “Learning how to focus on gaining concrete leadership tools enabled me to create transparency and direction while at the same time involving individuals and groups of people in meaningful dialogues about goals associated with my business,” he says. “The most important factor that made me interested in BAFF, however, was creating a network of skillful and talented international friends for my future ventures.” Coming to Portland, Maine on the BAFF program offered Elviss an opportunity to make connections and gain the leadership skills needed to take his inventive idea one step further. But that’s not where his story begins.

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Elviss’ interest in entrepreneurship and revolutionizing personal transportation started at a young age. He was only twelve years old when he began to recognize the lack of creativity in personal vehicles and contemplate the future of transportation. In an interview, he tells us, “It was obvious that on top of safety, functionality and ergonomic improvements over the last hundred years, a car still continues to be a metal box with four wheels and the fundamental way we move around has not changed for the better. In fact, many of the roads we used 100 years ago are still present, thus limiting the transport time from point A to B with countless relief projections and ground obstacles. It was clear to me that the future of personal transportation is going to be some sort of flying transport. For such an air transport to be mass-used it should be as simple as possible. Thus, the idea of an intuitive aircraft controlled by shifting the person’s weight (AirBoard) was born.”

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Though technology on the consumer market wasn’t quite yet advanced enough to support Elviss’ idea, he patiently followed advancements in technology such as flight controllers, speed controllers, batteries, small brushless motors, and radio controlled vehicles until, two years later, he recognized that key parts reached a point of advancement and economic viability that would allow for his aircraft to turn from concept to reality. For years, Elviss spent all of his free time after school, on the weekends, and during summer breaks learning about aerodynamics and the engineering principles necessary to develop the aircraft. Then, things started to get serious. “I started computer-aided design (CAD), aerodynamic simulations, stress simulations, renderings, and lift-off calculations with hundreds of different iterations and virtual prototypes.” Elviss considers this determination and strong focus on his business to be the keys to success in his journey creating the world’s smallest manned aircraft, among other entrepreneurial pursuits. However, that’s not the only element needed to be successful, he says. “Having a fast-paced and tremendous work ethic, combined with the ability to overcome obstacles, is hugely helpful in day-to-day challenges, but patience is key for achieving the long-term goals.”

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Determination, contemplation, innovation, and patience. These are the makings of an 18-year-old CEO.

We asked Elviss what it’s like to run a company at this age when most of his peers are going off to college, travelling on a gap year, or just beginning to craft their futures. “In my opinion, being a young, risk-taking entrepreneur is a competitive edge. When you don’t have the baggage from the past, it’s usually much easier to look at things from a totally different perspective.” With this fresh perspective, AirBoard was born despite the odds. “After faced with the challenge to open a business in Latvia at the age of 16, where the legal age restriction is 18, I found civil law Article 221 that allowed me to gain legal majority in the court of Latvia. After 6 months of rigorous paperwork and long processes, I gained the legal majority that allowed me to receive investment, employ people, and sign contracts. To this date, it is the single only case in Latvia where the court has given a positive decision for entrepreneurial reasons.”

“AirBoard is a Segway crossed with a hoverboard” – Daily Mail

Here’s how it works:
“AirBoard is the World’s smallest manned aircraft. It is an all-electric personal air vehicle controlled by shifting weight. It moves in the direction you are leaning. The rider is standing in a vertical position with his feet on the board and both hands holding handles. When turned on, the aircraft starts to hover in constant height from the ground. Pilot can use a button located on the handle in a thumb reachable area to adjust the flight altitude and lean further to accelerate the vehicle. The more a person shifts forward, the faster the vehicle flies forward.”

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“AirBoard Remote App shows important data like AirBoard’s battery life, flight speed, compass, and level. User can control flight level or altitude in which the multicopter is moving. The board can be locked and unlocked with a free mobile application. When the board is locked, power button is inactive and motion detection GPS alarm is turned on. Vehicle can be unlocked without ever taking the mobile device out of the pocket because the vehicle senses when the paired phone is nearby. App allows the customer to update the board software when an update that contains crucial fixes or new features are available.” Learn more about how AirBoard works.

Thank you, Elviss, for sharing your story with us!

Do you have a story to share? Email alumni@ciee.org to get started.

Study Abroad Alumna Works to Provide Computer Literacy in Rural Kenya

CIEE Study Abroad alumna Ruby Au traveled from the University of Southern California to Cape Town, South Africa in 2015 to pursue her interests in social enterprise and environmental issues. The semester abroad studying and working in a Western Cape township inspired her to keep traveling and solving problems. Ruby now lives in Nairobi, Kenya and operates a social enterprise that she co-founded. The organization, Lumen, is a market survey company that enables information gathering in rural communities while providing data and computer literacy to children. We interviewed Ruby to learn more about Lumen and her study abroad experience with CIEE.

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Ruby's Story

How did your study abroad experience spark your interest in social enterprise?
During my time in Cape Town, I had an opportunity to intern at Langa Quarter, a social enterprise precinct in Langa, the Western Cape’s oldest apartheid-era black township. The idea was to economically develop the area by providing business training to residents, who would then open up their homes as a homestay experience for visitors. With the preservation of culture in mind, it was a way to improve Langa’s neighborhoods by working with the residents rather than gentrifying the area. Prior to working at Langa Quarter, I had already been interested in social enterprise. Working in Langa solidified that interest, and helped shape my decision to move to Kenya later on.

When did the idea of Lumen come to life?
I don’t know that there was ever an “aha” moment for Lumen. Rather, it was a series of one thing leading to another, and continuous decisions to keep going down the proverbial rabbit hole. We started by identifying a need and asking people how we could help meet that need. When our first idea didn’t work, we would try to make that idea better. For example, this whole process started as a research investigation into the need for solar lamps. We later discovered that people weren’t asking for access to solar lamps, they were really asking for access to computers, and so on. (See below for Lumen’s story)

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Why Kenya?
Prior to starting Lumen, I had worked on a case challenge for Acumen, an impact investing group, about Kidogo, a Nairobi-based social enterprise that provides early childhood care services. Having had the opportunity to work on the case and meet Kidogo’s founder, I had a degree of academic familiarity about the social enterprise scene in Kenya. When I chose to visit in person in February 2016, it quickly became apparent to me that Nairobi is, in many senses, the capital of the social enterprise world. Adding on the perks of amazing people and the personal connections that I had made there, Kenya made a lot of sense.

What tips or advice do you have for other study abroad returnees to take their experience and turn it into a career?
Act while you are inspired and trust your gut. The period after you return from studying abroad is incredibly valuable because that’s often when inspiration and passion are at its strongest; you’re fresh from new experiences that expand your horizon of what you think is possible. Wait too long and it’s easy to forget that feeling and fall back into comfortable routines. Don’t let that happen!

Lumen's Story

Ruby Au traveled to Nairobi, Kenya in February 2016 to conduct independent research. Along the way, she met Rick Kiilu, a Kenyan who had grown up in a rural community in eastern Kenya. While offering to help Ruby with her research, Rick encouraged Ruby to re-direct her attention to rural Kenya, which lacked the attention and philanthropic activity centered around urban informal settlements.

After graduating college, Ruby moved to Kenya and began traveling to rural communities around the country with Rick. It was during these travels that the need for computer education in rural communities and the lack of access to it became apparent. “We know the world is becoming digital,” one community member told Rick, “and we don’t want to be left behind.”

Although over 70% of Kenya’s population lives in rural communities, these areas are by and large cut off from the digital revolution sweeping the urban centers of the country. In order to access a computer, many rural families are forced to send their children to classes in city centers that are hours away, and unaffordable for most. The question remained, “for rural communities already struggling to meet basic living expenses, what could be done to create a financially sustainable and scalable model for providing computer education?” From this question emerged the idea for Lumen.

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Co-founded by Ruby and Rick, Lumen is a social enterprise that integrates data collection with computer education to bridge the information gap in rural Kenya. Lumen provides market research services for development organizations by training students to collect data about their communities. At the same time, Lumen establishes computer labs where its students work with the data they collect, allowing them to master project-based computer skills while also learning to analyze and think critically about issues in their communities.

After concluding a successful pilot program in December 2016, Lumen is now crowdfunding to set up their first permanent “Lumen Labs" in Muhuru Bay and Mtito Andei, Kenya. You can help support the venture by donating to their campaign or visit their website to learn more. You can also follow Lumen on Facebook!

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Event Recap: Happy Hour on the Hill

On February 9, the CIEE Alumni Washington, D.C. Chapter and CIEE J-1 Professional Exchange Programs co-hosted a happy hour on Capitol Hill to bring together alumni of all CIEE programs and current participants of the CIEE Internship USA and Professional Career Training USA programs for a night of networking. Over 40 alumni and interns, including many participants of the Australian Uni-Capitol Washington Internship Programme (UCWIP), gathered at Capitol Lounge to exchange stories of their travels and talk about international politics. Some CIEE alumni were able to identify and speak to Australian interns who were working at their home state's congressional representative's office on Capitol Hill - a unique opportunity to hear different perspectives on local politics. Here's what some of our attendees had to say about the event:

"It was really interesting to meet the J-1 Interns and hear their perspectives on the government offices where they work. As outsiders to our political system, they talked about their internship locations in a more objective way than Americans who work on the Hill, without all of the usual partisanship and personal feeling that comes from having a personal stake in the process. I’m sure they’ll go back to their home countries with a more nuanced understanding of U.S. politics than what makes it into the news. " - Jackson Morawski, chapter member (CIEE Study Abroad Tokyo, Japan, 2014)

"Over drinks and Capitol Lounge’s famous wings, we shared our experiences of working and traveling outside our home countries. It was a great chance to meet fellow internationally-minded young people, share travel stories, and hear about their experiences in Washington, D.C. during this politically interesting period in the United States. As with many CIEE events, never a dull moment in a room full of well-traveled, energetic, and curious people. Hopefully the first of many shared events with UCWIP." - Mariah Deters, CIEE Alumni Washington, D.C. Chapter President (CIEE Study Abroad, Beijing, China, 2012) 

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Exchange Experience Inspires Open-Mindedness and Confidence

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Nathan Britton Wunsonti Musah participated in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program in 2008, traveling from Ghana to experience working and living in Oklahoma City as a ride attendant at Frontier City amusement park. Nathan received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. He currently works for the major political opposition party in Ghana. In addition to political work, Nathan exercises his drawing talent in his spare time. We interviewed Nathan to hear more about his experience in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.

Why did you decide to do CIEE Work & Travel USA?

I decided to do the program because I saw massive changes in my best friends in many ways that I really admired, like time management, confident speaking, and focus.

What did you learn about American life, culture, and society during your exchange program?

I learned that in the U.S., there are different kinds of people and very different kinds of behavior and characters. In a nutshell, there is a diverse group of people living in the U.S. with different cultural backgrounds, and this has allowed me to understand that we are all one with different characters and cultural backgrounds. In order to get along with each other, you’ve got to adopt other cultures to be able to move on and to grow. Knowing this has helped me grow a lot.

What impact has your exchange experience had on your life?

My exchange experience has prepared me to be open-minded in everything I do, wherever I find myself. It has helped me to do things in the right way and maturely with confidence. I learned how to be more disciplined at my work place, how to keep to time especially. It helped in my education also; it gave me confidence in talking in class, seminars, and at juries. It widened my scope of analyzing issues and solving them as well.

Once you learn these skills, it becomes part of you and you apply them without even noticing it. I have been working with a political organization since 2012, and almost everyone down to the flag bearer appreciates my effort and attitude towards work. It has even helped me find myself in places I never thought to be or places people never expected me to reach. So, I believe the program has prepared me for the present.

What piece of advice would you give to others who are thinking about participating in an exchange program like CIEE Work & Travel USA?

I urge anyone who wants to travel to sign up with CIEE. It’s a program that will give you the experience of a lifetime. Travel as far as you can and as much as possible. Work harder to save your money. Take care of your needs instead of your wants. Come out of your comfort zone and find out how other people live and realize that the world is a much bigger place to live in.

By the time you’re done with your program and return home, everything may go back to normal but something in your mind will have changed – that’s the experience you need in this life. That will change everything around you.

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Learn more about the CIEE Work & Travel USA program.